This past week Susan over at Garden Rant asked me about a paper which she had recently read which “proved” that Round-up caused birth defects. This study was interesting because it took embryos of chickens, exposed them to glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round-up) and then looked at the problems which the embryos had. Indeed, there were problems at concentrations of glyphosate much lower than what you’d see in normal agricultural applications. This is similar to other studies which “prove” how toxic glyphosate is which have been conducted over the years where various types of cells have been removed from human bodies, exposed to glyphosate, and then the resulting cellular damage has been taken as an indication that this herbicide is incredibly dangerous to us.
Studies where embryos or cells removed from the human body are tested against poisons have a glaring weakness which needs to be appreciated before we go off the deep end thinking that they prove that glyphosate is killing us. They’re conducted in a system that isn’t at all natural. That’s not to say they have no importance, but it’s like saying that, because it’s known that an air bubble in your bloodstream will kill you, air is dangerous. Or like saying that, because salt injected into your bloodstream is deadly, you shouldn’t eat it. Both air and salt can be deadly if they are in your bloodstream above a certain level, but we need to be careful to look at the specific situation with which we are dealing and take that into account when we make our judgments about how toxic particular things are to us.
I can’t argue that glyphosate can be toxic to people. This morning I did a little literature search on it and actually found cases where people had committed suicide by drinking agricultural formulation of glyphosate – mostly in the Eastern world. It would be a nasty way to go too – you’d need to ingest a lot of the stuff and the primary problems would be that parts of your gastrointestinal system would be corroded. Ouch!
If you’re going to use a glyphosate herbicide use it carefully and in accordance with its label. Don’t go splashing it around willy-nilly. Don’t drink it. Don’t get it on anyone. Don’t use more than you need to. To do any of these things is not only dangerous, it’s also stupid. That said, I can’t find any reason to think that glyphosate is anything but what it appears to be – an effective weed killer that is on the safer end of the spectrum relative to other chemical weed killers (and here I’m including organic weed killers too – Ever been exposed to those 20% acetic acid vinegar herbicides? I tried one this summer — Just being near it made my eyes burn.)